YouTube, KeepVid, & Exploitation Filmmaking
A true exploitation filmmaker is interested only in cutting costs & maximizing profits. Art & entertainment are secondary characteristics in so far as they serve the profit potential of their products. All entertainment value, to an exploitation filmmaker, is subservient to the cutting of costs & maximization of profits.
Of course, entertainment is an aspect of their business. If an exploitation movie does not entertain, on some level, the audience... then refunds ensue, bad press, negative word of mouth, being run out of town... all kinds of problems crop up, if you don't entertain.
Herschell Gordon Lewis once told me a movie only needs to be only slightly more entertaining than somebody's desire to ask for a refund. No more, no less. This was the movie business.
That's where stock footage comes in.
Classical exploitation filmmakers, from 1919 - 1959, were roadshow men. They were often trained in the circus in the arts of cheap mass persuasion. The only goal is to make a buck.
Much of the sale straddled the line of a con. Some people went over the line, some right up to it. This "conning" aspect of exploitation film distribution is what P. T. Barnum calls, "clap-trap." He claims we love to be fooled:
"Indeed I cannot doubt that the story of 'clap-trap' here referred to is allowable, and that the public like a little of it mixed up with the great realities which I provide.
The titles of 'humbug' and the 'prince of humbugs' were first applied to me by myself. I made these titles a part of my stock in trade...
It's a great thing to be a humbug. I've been called so often. It means hitting the public in reality. Anybody who can do so, is sure to be called a humbug by somebody who can't."
So people like Irving Klaw, Kroger Babb, Ed Wood, Dwain Esper, etc ruthlessly cut corners in the production of their movies - but they did it strategically. They weren't cheap without considering first the medium specificity of cinema.
Their money went toward the poster, and the promised spectacle on the poster.
If what we're being advertised is a seductive exotic exploitation film, like Ingagi (1930), then the limited budget of the production goes toward what the poster promises.
In this case, that would be images of bare-breasted native women, a rhino charging toward the camera, and "the finding of creatures apparently half-ape, half-human."
Now, the thing about exploitation filmmaking is that you don't deliver the goods at the height of technological prowess. Meaning, exploiteers don't try to film the most beautiful, state-of-the-art images of bare-breased women, starring only the most in-demand women in the world.
No. That's not exploitation filmmaking. The novelty starts a step before that.
The spectacle offered by exploitation films - as an aesthetic law - can only acceptably be TABOO and/or FORBIDDEN SPECTACLE.
As Herschell Gordon Lewis would say, "Something Hollywood could not, or would not, make."
If the spectacle you are going to film on a low budget is something mainstream media channels would not - or could not - make, then it doesn't matter HOW it looks, really.
It's more a matter of - HOW THE HECK WERE YOU ABLE TO GET THAT???
I WANT TO SEE THE FORBIDDEN THING
That's the thrust of the exploitation film spectacle. The adrenaline rush from seeing the culturally taboo, otherwise unavailable, image.
Therefore, a lot of money is not necessary to satisfy the audience.
Instead, the limited production budget is focused on advertising the taboo spectacle on the poster (and making it seem even more grandiose & alluring than it really is); and in acquiring the footage of that taboo spectacle, really by any means necessary.
That's it. That's the exploitation film game.
Again, this is where stock footage comes in.
Now that the stage is set, you can see that exploitation filmmakers don't care about originality, authorial vision, aesthetics, technology, scholarship, cultural advancement, nor ethics.
There's a reason why they're known as the "40 Thieves."
Exploitation filmmakers care only about money.
And so they padded their movies with purchased (or stolen) stock footage.
They did this because it was often cheaper than shooting an original movie, because the source of the advertised spectacle could be easier purchased than obtained (footage of child birth, car accidents, African excursions, city establishing shots, etc).
They made no effort to let you know the movie was comprised of stock footage, even when the movie was MOSTLY stock footage (ala, 'Confessions of a Vice Baron' - 1943). It wasn't a concern to them, and frankly it wasn't a concern to the audience. They paid to see "the goods" and that's all they're interested - regardless of how the footage came to be.
Stock footage saved exploitation filmmakers time, money, and became an indispensable tool in their industry. The audiences didn't care either way. Win win.
And this "recycling" principle extended in various directions for the exploiteers.
They often retitled their movies & sold them in different markets. They would recycle characters & plots to quickly make a carbon copy movie, but with one or two elements shifted - usually to appease a regional market. Titles, too, would get recycled.
It was common for an exploitation movie to be re-sold As Is, but with a different title. The hope was in people forgetting they had seen the same movie a few years - sometimes even months - ago. Remember, this is pre-Internet. Or, if the movie would play better in a region of the country with a different title, so be it.
Foreign films, too, were purchased cheaply by exploitation filmmakers, and "recycled" so to speak. They would be re-edited to exploit a particular facet of the movie. A new title is slapped on, and voila! A new movie product, ready to be distrusted aka monetized.
There's also many, what's known as, exploitation compilation films: these are movies entirely patched together using stock footage, and bound with the thinnest of marketing schemes.
Dwain Esper's "Hell-a-Vision" (1936) is a lost film which is considered a classic of the trope - part of Esper's "crime doesn't pay" roadshow.
Generally, the idea is that you can easily cook up another movie product by hodge-podging various bits of footage lying around into a new feature length film. The more movies you can make cheaply that sells, the better.
Geez, so where does YouTube & KeepVid come in already?
Okay okay okay. NOW to be brief.
I consider myself working within the tradition of the original exploitation filmmakers. It's not a conscious decision, more of an observation. If I see my limitations as strengths, the obvious conclusion for myself - as a filmmaker - is to carry on in a tradition like the 40 Thieves. That simply means small-scale independent productions, innovative marketing tactics, enveloped by an operating principle of making money.
I suppose the difference, the addition, is that I care deeply by style & substance. But that's a whole other subject.
One of the rules of the exploitation filmmaking game is that stock footage is encouraged. To this day, it websites like Shutterstock and Videohive bring to your fingertips a virtually infinite library of exotic footage, all at reasonable prices. It keeps costs low, and looks great.
Kony 2012 is a great example of a modern day exploitation film.
I think it's perfectly acceptable to utilize YouTube in this same manner.
Here's where things get a bit avant-garde.
YouTube is a depository of amateur videos the world over. It's constantly updating. Twitter, too. But I'll focus on YouTube for the sake of the metaphor.
If a major event happens, many individuals are guaranteed to be there, filming with their iPhone cameras, in hopes to capture that perfect newsworthy angle. When people vacation, they film every inch of the new location, and upload it to their channels. And so on & so forth.
At this point, millions of hours of original, documentary worthy footage has been uploaded to these social media platforms. Many of the videos only get a few hundred views over the course of many years. A few likes, and then it falls deep into the expansive blackhole of the Internet.
We have a divine right, as exploitation filmmakers, to resurrect Internet footage into our movies.
Now, is it legal?
I mean, I think so. I'm not monetizing the work. And even if I was, the use of the footage is so sparing, is so creatively altered, is attributed, and is part of a larger cultural dialogue... that I feel quite strongly that it falls under the First Amendment.
Of course, the original exploitation filmmakers ended up going to court a lot for precisely these - and similar - kind of things. They always beaconed themselves as Champions of the First Amendment. They also used these opportunities to publicize themselves & their screenings.
So if you're to be bold, like an exploitation filmmaker, remember that there were unique challenges to the job as well. You may have to be prepared to be a Champion of the First Amendment. Just sayin'.
The easiest way to avoid all of that is to ask permission for everything, or legitimately purchase the clips with the proper licensing. Often, when you tally up the numbers, it's well worth the price to go in this direction - and will save you a lot of money in the long run.
I experimented with this free-wheeling notion of classical exploitation cinema meets Internet remix culture with my free web series, DEAD MEAT.
I pulled from YouTube - with citation - various bits of footage I actually fought hard to get myself, but failed to seal for whatever reason. Like the demolition of the Boomers wooden rollercoaster. I tried getting access to film that, but was denied. Luckily I found the demolition company's YouTube channel which had a beautiful shot of the rollercoaster tumbling into its skeleton. It's really an awe-inspiring shot.
I just KeepVid'd that beyotch and suavely edited it into my climax. Bada-bing, instant art. Exploitation art. Is the spectacle taboo and/or forbidden? In many ways, it is. Footage of a wooden rollercoaster being demolished may not be gory or sexual, but it's sublime & highly aesthetic. The novelty brought forth by the filmmaker, to be enjoyed by the audience, is substantial enough to justify the reappropriation.
This is something Chris Marker knows damn well, especially in "Sans Soleil."
Heck, all the most intense scenes appears to be reappropriated footage - "stock footage" - and all the beautiful scenes, all the artistic scenes, the sensual scenes... those appear to be shot by Chris Marker.
So even Marker outsourced the taboo and/or forbidden spectacle, and focused on the beauty of the detailed "filler."
Classical exploitation cinema is a good model for the 21st Century filmmaker. The trick is to elevate the form into the dimension of the sublime & beautiful.
Depending on the nature of your film, the circumstances may differ. But if you need something, why not check if some obscure YouTube channel has the footage first?